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Oil rallies as analyst warns Ukraine crisis could be a ‘seismic event’ for the energy market

MarketWatch logo MarketWatch 1/14/2022 Myra P. Saefong
© anatolii stepanov/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
FUTURES MOVERS

Oil futures rallied on Friday to post a fourth straight weekly gain, with an analyst offering a dire warning of potential supply disruptions as tensions between Russia and Ukraine intensified.


Video: NYMEX WTI crude oil futures gain around 2% (Yahoo! Finance)

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“From an energy standpoint, this could be a seismic event,” said Phil Flynn, senior market analyst at The Price Futures Group. Russia is not only a major oil producer but Europe, in their rush to get off of fossil fuels, has “become more dependent on Russia as major source for their energy.”

“From an energy standpoint, [the Russia and Ukraine crisis] could be a seismic event.” — Phil Flynn, The Price Futures Group

Russia began moving tanks and other military equipment westward toward Ukraine from its Far East bases as diplomats held negotiations over the crisis, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday, citing U.S. officials and social-media reports.

Also on Friday, the Associated Press reported that a cyberattack left a number of Ukrainian government websites temporarily unavailable. Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko told the news agency that while it was too soon to discover who’s behind the attack, “there is a long record of Russian cyber assaults against Ukraine in the past.”

“The emerging crisis between Russian and Ukraine raises political risk premium,” Manish Raj, chief financial officer at Velandera Energy Partners, told MarketWatch.

“Whereas the Russian-Ukrainian crisis directly affects the regional natural gas prices, crude oil prices are generally aloof, since little Russian oil transits through Ukraine,” he said. “Still, the possibility of an armed conflict is a serious development, and has wide geopolitical ramifications, thereby boosting oil price premiums.”

Read: Tensions between Russia and Ukraine aren’t fully priced into commodities

West Texas Intermediate crude for February delivery rose $1.70, or 2.1%, to settle at $83.82 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, leading the U.S. benchmark to post a 6.2% weekly gain, its fourth weekly rise in a row, according to Dow Jones Market Data.

March Brent crude the global benchmark, added $1.59, or 1.9%, at $86.06 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe, for a 5.3% weekly advance.

Oil markets have been also taking comfort from a boost in demand optimism, said Raj. Many oil demand centers, specifically Spain and the broader European Union countries, have “started to perceive COVID as a endemic,” which implies that they are “learning to live with COVID rather than impose sporadic lockdowns.”

Meanwhile, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies, known as OPEC+, stuck to a plan to incrementally boost production, resisting pressure from the Biden administration and others to speed up increases. At the same time, some OPEC members have failed to meet boosted quotas.

Supply expectations continue to call for increased production from OPEC+ and U.S. shale producers in the months ahead, said Robbie Fraser, global research & analytics manager at Schneider Electric, in a note.

“However, geopolitics and unplanned disruptions have added support to prices at least for the near-term,” he said. “Unrest in countries like Libya and Kazakhstan caused some strong, but likely temporary, production losses in recent weeks, while the chances of a breakthrough around a renewed Iranian nuclear deal have again faded.”

“The net result is mixed conditions that in some ways were reflected by this week’s [Energy Information Administration] report, which showed a stronger decline in U.S. crude stocks that was largely countered by a significant build for gasoline stocks,” said Fraser. 

Oil prices traded higher Friday despite news of a potential release of crude from China’s strategic reserves and a weekly rise in the number of active U.S. oil drilling rigs.

Reuters reported that China will release oil near the Lunar New Year, which falls on Feb. 1, as part of an effort by global consumers coordinated by the U.S. And Baker Hughes said Friday the number of active U.S. rigs drilling for oil was up by 11 to 492 this week. That marked the biggest weekly climb since October, Baker Hughes data show.

Some analysts see scope for oil prices to take a breather near current levels.

“While the outlook for the global oil market has improved in recent weeks with a smaller surplus now expected in 2022, the developments have likely not been bullish enough to push futures to new multiyear highs just yet,” said analysts at Sevens Report Research, in Friday’s newsletter.

“To be clear, the long-term uptrend in oil remains very much intact right now, but oil has become near-term overbought,” they said. “As such we expect the market to consolidate some here after WTI has rallied more than 25% since the Dec. 20 lows.”

Among the petroleum products traded on Nymex, February gasoline tacked on 1.5% to $2.419 a gallon, up 5.2% for the week. February heating oil also rose 1% at $2.634 a gallon, for a weekly climb of 6.1%.

Natural-gas futures, meanwhile, saw their February contract settle 0.2% lower at $4.262 per million British thermal units after dropping 12% on Thursday. For the week, however, prices saw an 8.8% climb.

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